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Future unclear for pod system
by Dan Eckles
Aug 17, 2011 | 1028 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune file photo - The Sparks High baseball team won a 3A/2A Mount Rose League title last spring.
Tribune file photo - The Sparks High baseball team won a 3A/2A Mount Rose League title last spring.
A year ago the state’s top high school athletic officials put into effect a realignment plan that grouped 3A and 2A schools into a pod league format where they competed against each other despite their separate classifications.

Rather than traveling long distances across the state, leagues were formed across Northern Nevada from the east, central and west that housed 3A and 2A schools together. The move was made to save money, largely by slashing travel expenses. Those schools will stay in the pod format for this upcoming 2011-12 school year, the second year of a realignment cycle. But what happens beyond the fast-approaching school year is still up for debate.

Athletic officials at 3A Sparks, the Rail City’s oldest high school and lone member of either the 3A or the 2A ranks, will be watching that debate with a keen eye.

“Those discussions will be held in the next couple of months,” Sparks High Athletic Director Rob Kittrell said. “There are pluses and minuses to the pod system.

“When you look at the success our boys teams had in league play and when you look that our girls basketball team was in the playoff hunt until the last day of the regular season, those are positives. But then you look at the lack of lower-level programs with the 2A schools. I think our freshmen volleyball team played Truckee eight times and in girls basketball North Tahoe and Incline did not have JV teams so that’s four games we missed out on. That’s not good.”

There are differing opinions on the value of the pod system but at the top of the food chain in Washoe County, where the WCSD has two schools — 3A Sparks and 2A Incline — participating in the format, the feedback is positive.

“Keeping the pod system would be my choice,” said Ken Cass, the WCSD’s coordinator of athletics. “And not only because I think it’s good for the outlying schools, but it’s good for Washoe County. It’s good for Sparks and Incline … Everybody has an axe to grind. My only concern is Washoe County.”

There have been concerns arise over competitive balance. In some cases the 2A schools struggle to compete with their 3A league foes. Pod league critics argue a new system should be considered that makes up separate Northern 3A and Northern 2A leagues.

“I know for us and a couple of schools in our league, we’d like to see the pod system go away after this year,” Elko High Athletic Director Lynette Davis said. “It’s worked fine but in some sports there are such competitive imbalances. We’ve done everything we can to avoid big margins but we’ve still been criticized for running up the score.”

Along with Elko, South Tahoe was a long-time Northern 4A member before becoming a 3A member and competing in the pod system for the 2010-11 school year. South Tahoe Athletic Director Don Borges liked the savings his district saw in a 3A/2A Mount Rose League that did not have a conference foe further away than Sparks, at about 70 miles. But he was non-committal about his ideas on the pod system’s future.

“The pod system has its advantages, but it also has its disadvantages,” Borges said. “Finances are key to running athletics. Competition level is not as much of a factor as finances, namely travel expenses.”

If what Borges preaches is true, the decision makers for high school sports care more about the bottom line than all the other factors, the pod system will likely stay in place. However, they seem to see a distinction in football. The pod system does not apply to football. There are separate 3A and 2A leagues.

So at what point between football and other sports does competitive balance come into question?

“We have 10 football schools in the 3A and that’s a good league,” Davis said. “But then you get into other sports, like basketball and softball, where you’ve got the 2A schools and it’s not good for either the 3As or 2As.

“The schools I know best, Battle Mountain, Spring Creek, Elko, we’d vote to get rid of it (the pod system). Then you look at White Pine and West Wendover. They have to travel to compete whichever way they go. We’d like a true 3A or 4A North ‘B’, whatever you want to call it.”

By alluding to 4A North B, Davis was taking a small dig at Clark County athletic officials who recently put a plan in place to absorb a trio Southern 3A schools into the 4A ranks. However, the Southern 4A will have two divisions, a Division I for perennial competitive schools and a Division II for smaller schools and other schools that perennially struggle.

Many Northern 3A leaders believe its comical South leaders opted to call their second tier of schools 4A Division II rather than 3A.

Davis said if the pod system is to be scrapped in northern Nevada, it needs a leadership voice who will provide others with a valid alternative.

“In the South, Dave Wilson, the principal at Virgin Valley, was the moving force. He made the big push for that change,” she said. “We must have someone like that to do the leg work. And it needs to be a principal or administrator, someone with facts and figures so it’s not just about arguing back and forth.”

More Changes?

It is commonly believed Northern 3A playoff qualifiers will face Southern 4A Division II schools in state tournament play while the Northern 4A’s top teams will face Southern 4A Division I members in state tourney tilts.

The separate 4A divisions in Clark County have an initial assignment of schools. However those schools can move up or down from their divisions based upon their athletic success, which will be formulated by a rubric.

Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Director Eddie Bonine has said he’d like Northern 4A and 3A schools to consider using the rubric. However, that is drawing stiff opposition in Washoe County. Any rubric would likely re-classify Reno schools Wooster, Hug and possibly Damonte Ranch as second division schools, which would in turn put them in a league that requires much more travel.

“I don’t want to see a rubric applied. A change would be a lot more expensive and those schools don’t want it,” said Cass, the WCSD’s coordinator of athletics. It would be disingenuous of me to help the NIAA by shipping Washoe County schools down the river. I don’t think we’d ever be forced to change, but you never know.

“What I’ve tried to say loud and clear is what works for Clark County is not a fix-all for the rest of the state. Why force it down the rest of the state’s throat? It’s not a good deal and especially when we already have something that works pretty well.”

The NIAA will be forming a realignment committee to study the pod system’s future as well as other scheduling and league formatting options in the coming months.
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